Yankees close to acquiring Alfonso Soriano from Cubs

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Alfonso Soriano’s return to the Bronx has been rumored for the past couple of days, but a deal is almost official.

According to Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said that Soriano has been scratched from tonight’s lineup against the Diamondbacks because a trade with the Yankees is close. In fact, Sveum told Sullivan that a deal is “99 percent done.”

The specifics of the deal aren’t yet known, but Bob Nightengale of USA Today says a pitching prospect with go to Chicago. Soriano still has around $25 million left on his contract through next season, so the Cubs figure to pay a big chunk of it. Similar to the Vernon Wells trade, the Yankees will likely try to arrange it so that whatever portion they cover will not count toward their payroll for next season. Soriano’s contract includes a full no-trade clause, but it was never expected to be an obstacle here.

Soriano, who played his first five seasons in the majors as a member of the Yankees, is batting .254/.287/.467 with 17 home runs and 51 RBI through 93 games this season. The Yankees have been desperate for any sort of production from the right side of the plate, so Soriano should help on that end. The 37-year-old has an .806 OPS against southpaws this season. He’ll likely play left field for now and figures to shift to DH when Curtis Granderson comes off the DL.

UPDATE: CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman writes that the deal isn’t likely to be finalized tonight, as it still needs approval from the commissioner’s office. He adds that the Cubs are expected to pay more than half of the $25 million left on Soriano’s contract.

Japanese Baseball to begin June 19

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Japanese League commissioner Atsushi Saito announced that Japan’s professional baseball season will open on June 19. Teams can being practice games on June 2. There will be no fans. Indeed, the league has not yet even begun to seriously discuss a plan for fans to begin attending games, though that may happen eventually.

The season will begin three months after its originally scheduled opening day of March 20. It will be 120 games long. Teams in each six-team league — the Central League and Pacific League — will play 24 games against each league opponent. There will be no interleague play and no all-star game.

The announcement came in the wake of a national state of emergency being lifted for both Tokyo and the island of Hokkaido. The rest of the country emerged from the state of emergency earlier this month. This will allow the Japanese leagues to follow leagues in South Korea and Taiwan which have been playing for several weeks.

In the United States, Major League Baseball is hoping to resume spring training in mid June before launching a shortened regular season in early July. That plan is contingent on the league and the players’ union coming to an agreement on both financial arrangements and safety protocols for a 2020 season. Negotiations on both are ongoing. Major League Baseball will, reportedly, make a formal proposal about player compensation tomorrow.